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TRIP REPORT - Air China: Osaka - Beijing, surprisingly good experience

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  • TRIP REPORT - Air China: Osaka - Beijing, surprisingly good experience

    The flight was part of a trip from Toronto to Asia in Oct 2011 and this is the first time I flew Air China. Initially I was reluctant to fly Air China, and the flight was only chosen because the alternative (ANA) would leave me with a 6-hr layover in Beijing. The whole trip was scheduled as follow:
    Air Canada: Toronto - Tokyo Narita (3hr layover)
    ANA: Tokyo Narita - HongKong
    ANA: HongKong - Osaka Kansai
    Air China: Osaka Kansai - Beijing (2hr layover)
    Air Canada: Beijing - Toronto

    The flight left Kansai at around 2pm and the flight time was only 2.5hrs. It was a short flight on an A321 and I wasn't expecting too much, especially I had found out on seatguru that Air China's A321 is not equipped even with TV screens (and I mean large ones, not PTV), so there is no IFE whatsover, no video, no movie, no audio, no power supply for laptop. I was only OK with it because it was a short flight.

    Strangely, despite being a Star Alliance member, Air China's ground handling at KIX is handled by JAL. The Economy Class check-in line was full of people but the business class check-in line is empty, so I only had to wait for 2 minutes to get to check in. The JAL check-in staff did not speak much English and we were barely able to communicate with each other. The first surprise of the trip was when she informed me that she cannot issue the boarding pass of my Air Canada flight from PEK to YYZ and I had to take my check-in luggage out at PEK and re-check-in there for my next leg. Common sense tells me that it means I will have to go through China's immigration and go to the departure level at PEK to check in again, and a 2-hr layover is not going to be enough for that. Moreover, I handed her a Canadian passport without a visa to enter China so she should know better this was not an option. I explicitly asked her if I can get the bags checked through to the AC's flight and I will get the boarding pass of next leg at the transit counter at PEK. Only then she reluctantly said yes, and then she warned me the airline will not be responsible for losing the luggage if I decided to check through (since when do airlines be responsible to losing luggage anyway?). The experience with JAL's ground crew was not very good at all.

    Business Class Lounge
    Again, Air China uses JAL's Sakura Lounge instead of ANA's Lounge at KIX. JAL's lounge is a joke. I cannot believe there is a lounge worse than UA's Red Carpet Club Lounge in ORD (my experience anyway). There were literally nothing in it. Only soft drinks/juice, beer, a few wine selection, two types of cookies, Japanese beans snacks and miso soup. Mysteriously, there was minestrone soup in a makeshift soup pot (probably because there was an Alitalia flight) but there were no soup bowls. It's coffee cups and coffee spoons besides the soup pot! So for the first time in my life, I had a "cup" of soup with coffee cup.

    Boarding was smooth and quick. We were quickly provided with orange juice, hot towel and newspaper once we boarded. The A321 only had 12 business class seats, and I had a window seat. The seat is a bit old fashioned but it is spacious and clean. There was a blanket and a large pillow on the seat already. The flight departed on time. We taxied past ANA's first 787 (that was before its first flight so I suppose it was being tested at KIX). We did not have to wait for take off so we were on our way quickly. The flight was completely full, both classes. We took off towards northeast and quickly turned west along the coastline as we climbed. We passed just south of Kobe Airport as we flew west over Sato Inland Sea. After about 15 minutes of climbing, we started to turn northwest over the land. I fell asleep briefly until meal time. Meal started to be served as we were over Sea of Japan flying towards South Korea. Surprisingly, it was full meal being served with full standard. Even on business class, usually full meals are served in one tray (appetizer, main dish, dessert together in one tray) if it's a short flight. For example, that was how meals were served on my previous ANA flights between Japan and HongKong (which were 4hrs so they were longer flights than this). But Air China actually served the meals in business class, even in a 2.5hrs flight, with appetizer, main dish, fruits and dessert coming sequentially, like how they are served usually on long range flights. Unfortunately they ran out of steak so I got Rice with Seafood (Eel, shrimp, seaweed, etc.). The meal was really good and the garlic bread coming with the meal was the best garlic bread I had ever had in my life. The flight attendant actually advised me to have one more slice of bread as they were baked well, so I got two slices. Overall, I would give the meal 100 out of 100. But it was the Chinese tea that topped it up at the end. Air China provided 5 types of tea to choose from and they served the tea with real tea leaves in the cups (not tea bags) and you can taste that those are good quality high grade tea leaves. As we finished the meal, we were already over Incheon. The weather was so good that I could actually see ICN as we flew right over it at 32000ft. As there were no entertainment, I went to sleep again when the flight left the Korean Peninsula. When I woke up, we were already only 20 minutes from landing at PEK.

    We landed right on time at PEK and as we taxied, I already saw the Air Canada 777-300ER parked at the terminal as we taxied pass it. Then we continued on the taxiway and ended up at a remote spot that seems to be the furthest parking spot away from the terminal and the opposite side of where the AC aircraft was. I was worrying about having to wait in the bus for the whole planeload of passengers to deplane as I still had to find the transit counter and get the boarding pass. As we left the plane, the flight attendant told us to get on the mini-bus. We found that there was actually a mini-bus in front of the main bus, so the business class passengers were loaded onto the 24-seat mini-bus and we left as the economy class passengers just started to deplane. Not sure if this is standard practice for business class passengers for other airlines as this is the first time I had my flight parked at a remote gate.

    Before this flight, I was thinking the Chinese airlines can't deserve 4-star ranking by SkyTrax, but I had changed my mind of Air China after this flight. We had 3 flight attendants serving business class (12 seats). The flight attendants spoke good English (although I spoke Chinese with them), were friendly and professional and were always smiling. I would definitely ranked their cabin service for business class on par with ANA (but behind Cathay Pacific) and their business class meal service on par with the likes of Cathay Pacific. The only disappointing part is the lounge but that's really JAL's problem, and the part that I could not get my AC boarding pass at KIX despite CA and AC being in the same Alliance. Now if I am flying business class again, I would definitely choose Air China over ANA, at least on intra-Asia flights that the lack of IFE would not be an issue.

    Photos are:
    - Kobe Airport
    - Sato Inland Sea south of Kobe
    - Incheon International Airport (Seoul, Korea)
    None Planned

  • #2
    Good trip report.

    Now I just wonder how good is CA's long haul C class.

    Also, the choice of lounge at KIX is CA's responsability.

    Any photos of the cabin, seats and meal?
    TAP - Transportes Aéreos Portugueses

    Voe mais alto. Fly higher.